- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Those paying attention to Peter Bondra's movements yesterday might have thought the Washington Capitals were preparing for Game7 against Tampa Bay. The wing went back and forth constantly inside the Piney Orchard training complex, ever-present stick in one hand, sandpaper in the other.

Swirling around him on breakup day were controversies: problems between the Caps and Washington Sports & Entertainment, the rat problem at MCI Center, comments veteran defenseman Calle Johansson made about playing elsewhere, comments by majority owner Ted Leonsis about possibly cutting back on his financial commitment, even the possibility that Bondra might retire after a career spent solely with the Caps.

"It would be wonderful [to finish my career with the Caps]," said the team's career leading scorer. "But I cannot control where I am going to play. I'm going to play in the NHL, but it's up to [general manager George McPhee] and Ted to decide what they're going to do. But I hope I'm going to finish my career here."

In the highly emotional atmosphere surrounding the team's early playoff demise Sunday evening with a loss to the Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Bondra had hinted he was so upset that he might retire. A day of reflection changed that.

"We have to score goals at the right time," he said, referring to one of the club's playoff problems. "Everybody's wondering what's going to happen to our team, but I hope Ted gives us a chance for another year and hopefully we'll get the job done for him. We're all disappointed. I know how Ted feels, I know how management feels and I know how the players feel.

"We lost again, and it's tough. It's going to be on my mind pretty much all summer, and maybe it helps us to work even harder to prepare for next season and be better."

McPhee acknowledged yesterday that the team has told Bondra it will pick up the option on his contract, worth $4.5 million for next season.

"He came to me a couple months ago and asked what was going to happen, and I told him he wasn't going anywhere," McPhee said. "He hasn't signed anything, there's nothing on paper yet." He has until June 30 to get papers signed.

Asked about other players with option contracts like Jeff Halpern, McPhee said, "They didn't ask."

In comments to The Washington Post, Johansson angrily said he wanted to finish his career elsewhere after being benched for good portions of the sixth game of the playoffs. He said it was not about him but about the team and winning but acknowledged there were differences in philosophy between himself and coach Bruce Cassidy.

Johansson backtracked yesterday, maybe an inch or so. He retracted nothing but said the two sides would meet again in a few days after having private discussions yesterday with both McPhee and Cassidy, the latter lasting an hour.

"Everything is a little smoother after a couple days," Johansson said. "There were no hard words. We disagreed on some stuff, but we also agreed on other things. It was good discussions."

Johansson, who has played more games as a Cap than any other player, becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

In other contract developments, Michael Nylander is sort of a man in limbo. He made $1.8 million this season, and if that turns out to be under the league average, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. And McPhee said he wasn't sure what he planned to do about left wing Sergei Berezin, whose contract also expires. Both players came to the Caps this season in trades with Chicago.

McPhee said the Caps have made an offer to Ken Klee, the veteran defenseman who will be unrestricted on July 1.

"We know our positions and if we can reach an agreement, that would be great. If not, we'll wish him luck and put a younger player in," said McPhee, listing Nolan Yonkman and Jakub Cutta as possible replacements.

In medical news, Dainius Zubrus was scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on a knee yesterday, a minor operation to clean up an old wound. Mike Grier is scheduled to have minor surgery on a shoulder that was operated on more than a year ago, again to clean debris out of the area.

And possibly a key reason Kip Miller did not play as well in the closing weeks of the season and playoffs as he had earlier was revealed by McPhee; the left wing sustained a broken shoulder against Detroit on Feb. 22, not a bruised hand as the team reported. Miller also is scheduled for surgery but on a finger that needs realignment rather than his shoulder.



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